The festering racism scandal undermining South Africa's preparations for next month's World Cup in Australia burst into the open once again yesterday when Julian Smith, one of two black members of an inquiry team charged with investigating claims of prejudice in the Springbok camp, resigned over a decision to postpone further action until after the tournament. Smith, a professor and vice-rector of Stellenbosch University, accused the South African Rugby Football Union of losing a "prime opportunity to advance fundamental change".
Alarm over the affair has spread to Australia, where John O'Neill, the most powerful figure in Wallaby rugby, backed the decision to delay the inquiry until 2004. "Our commitment is to turn this tournament into a platform that allows players to perform at their best," he said. "Distractions of a political nature really should be avoided. It has been an extraordinarily difficult time for South African rugby and I think the decision to defer the investigation is a sensible one. It is not our problem - the controversy is in South Africa's backyard - and it is not a matter we need to buy into unless it affects the tournament in some way."
The SARFU set up an independent inquiry under the chairmanship of Edwin King, the retired judge who led the investigation into the cricket match-fixing affair three years ago, after newspaper reports accused Geo Cronje, a white second-row forward, of refusing to share a room with Quinton Davids, a black colleague, during a World Cup training get-together in Pretoria. An initial examination of the facts found no conclusive evidence of any wrong-doing, although both men were excluded from the final 30-man World Cup squad.
Then the Boks' media liaison manager, Mark Keohane, resigned from his job, claiming that prejudice was being "tolerated, wished away and excused", and when Keohane produced a 12,000-word dossier in support of his allegations, the second investigation was launched. It immediately fell prey to legal argument, however, and the union decided to place it on the back-burner.
This infuriated Smith, who was not consulted nor properly informed of the postponement. "I shall not participate in the investigation," he said. "The long-term benefit of fearlessly addressing matters such as prejudice, which continue to characterise rugby, has again been sacrificed for the short-term gain of artificial unity."
The International Rugby Board yesterday confirmed their disciplinary procedures for the forthcoming global tournament, a serious bone of contention in past competitions. For the first time, yellow cards will be cumulative, and any player picking up three during the course of the World Cup will be hauled before a judicial officer in Sydney and made to answer for his sins. A one-match suspension will be the norm for those who fail to come up with a decent excuse for their misdemeanours, which holds out the tantalising possibility of a Martin Johnson or a Danny Grewcock blubbing in Gascoigne-esque fashion at the prospect of missing the final.
England will go into the tournament as official world leaders, having been identified by the IRB as the top-ranked international team in a new set of rankings. New Zealand are second, which sounds about right, while Ireland are third, which does not sound remotely correct, given the hammering they took from the fourth-placed Wallabies during the summer. But with the IRB based in Dublin and Syd Millar, the grand old Lions prop from Ulster, as the acting chairman of the organisation, perhaps it is not such a surprise after all.
While the new system looks simple, those charged with compiling it have more than a touch of the mathematical genius about them. They have incorporated points thresholds, testbed variables and a predictive accuracy programme into their calculations, and have taken into account every international result since Scotland first played England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in 1871. For the record, the Scots are ninth in the world, and the Welsh 10th.
Talking of Wales, Gareth Williams of Cardiff Blues has damaged a hamstring in training and pulled out of the World Cup squad, thereby saving the selectors the trouble of dropping one of the four hookers named in the party. Robbie McBryde, Mefin Davies and Huw Bennett will make the trip.
BACKS: K Morgan (Celtic Warriors), R Williams (Cardiff Blues), G Evans (Llanelli Scarlets), G Thomas (Celtic Warriors), M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), M Taylor (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Celtic Warriors), I Harris (Cardiff Blues), C Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), S Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Celtic Warriors), S Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys).
FORWARDS: J Thomas (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), C Charvis (Unattached), D Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), A Popham (Leeds Tykes), M Owen (Gwent Dragons), G Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), R Sidoli (Celtic Warriors), B Cockbain (Celtic Warriors), G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors), A Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), D Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), I Thomas (Llanelli Scarlets), R McBryde (Llanelli Scarlets), H Bennett (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), M Davies (Celtic Warriors).Reuse content